(These aren't quite "site-licenses"; they don't mean "everyone regardless of how many"; there are price gradations that set ceilings on the number of deployed licenses. Typically a customer will self-audit annually and purchase additional true-up licenses at that time. But within the agreed-on range, there's little concern. So at the margin it behaves like a site license.)
Some sw manufacturers offer things akin to Microsoft's "Software Assurance" program, which gives you the right to ongoing upgrades of covered products over a time period (3 years for MS). So Carol is exactly right.
Perhaps I misunderstood what Carol was saying. I thought she was speaking of an unlimited site license, which Microsoft, as you point out, does not offer. Software Assurance programs are another matter. But when all is said and done, these are basically risk insurance policies.
Maybe your experience is different than mine, but the companies I deal with that have bought into MS software agreements have done so primarily to address license compliance concerns
rather than for technical reasons. Far smarter to buy a few more licenses than you might actually need; and audit yourself (and also be allowed to get caught-up after the fact if you discovered you fell short) than to deal with a BSA enforcement action.
For my clients, the fact they can
upgrade to newer additions of software covered by an 'assurance' agreement falls more under the "nice to have" category. To your point:
Having to maintain the skillset for multiple systems, needing to keep track of who has what, needing to get a meaningful answer from the user about (what version of Windows do you have? What about Office?) is a really significant cost.
I think you've said the same thing I'm saying here. Although a company has the right
to upgrade, the logistics and support issues of having half its staff on Windows XP and Office 2003, and the other half on Vista and Office 2007 would create more support issues than would be gained in increased productivity by going over to the new versions. Assuming, of course, that there were any demonstrable
gains in productivity to begin with. So unless all of the hardware seats are capable of upgrading, you probably won't. Which brings us to the issue of hardware...
As far as hardware goes, I still maintain that new operating systems demand new hardware. Microsoft is already saying as much with their announced intention to abandon 32-bit on the server side with their next release. If you're supplying 2 and 3 year old hardware configurations to some of your clients, then I'd suspect most of those machines are not running Microsoft's newest OS.
For large organizations, getting an OS upgrade via new hardware is decidedly not the most cost-effective approach. This is due to the costs of IT support. Generally speaking, large organizations want to minimize the variety of systems they must support.
I'm not talking about picking up boxes with Windows pre-installed willy-nilly from CDW when I say it is more cost-effective to upgrade your OS and hardware at the same time. I'm talking about structured enterprise deployments. Maybe I should have been more clear on that point.
If you are going to effectively deploy a new OS, you are also going to need updated hardware and drivers written specifically for the new OS to gain the full benefits of doing so. As a result, the companies I deal with do not change their underlying OS until they are ready to deploy a new "known good" hardware platform to go with it. That is why I believe it is more cost effective to coordinate your OS update with the acquisition of new hardware.
The thing that effectively tanked Vista on the corporate desktop was Microsoft's refusal to acknowledge that most of the machines sitting in offices couldn't run Vista effectively. And then stonewalling when it became obvious. Add in legacy driver issues, and problems with new drivers and it was over before it even started. I guess Microsoft admitted as much since they're allowing 'downgrades' to XP on a Vista license. Maybe what they should consider is allowing you to run ANY version of Windows under the Software Assurance program rather than just giving you the opportunity to 'upgrade.'
You personally can get a computer much cheaper because you're only supporting yourself; we have many large customers who are willing to pay a premium to us to ensure that we'll be able to supply to them the exact same models over a full generation in their business (say, three years); we must stock a warehouse with these to ensure that if the manufacturer discontinues the model, we'll still have a sufficient stock to satisfy those customers.
Ouch! Maybe I'm not in your company's league as far as client sizes are concerned; but I do work with some of the "big kids" so I'm not talking about "only supporting yourself" here.
Still, I'm not sure why these people are paying your company a premium
to stockpile older hardware other than for their IT department's personal convenience. It would make a lot more sense for them to just contract you to provide "known-good" machine and device driver configurations for whatever OS they're deploying. They could contract you to make sure whatever you supply works with their standard software suite so that there are minimal hardware issues that could result in support headaches.
I'm sure your company's present methodology works quite well with the size of the clients you obviously have.
(Billions of dollars! The very sound of that makes me smile!
But it's also a brute-force "swap and drop" approach that isn't very elegant or eco-friendly. Still, whatever works since there's no arguing with success from a business perspective. And if you guys are doing volume in the billions you're obviously doing something right. (From a business perspective at least!